Eyesore or the future of electricity generation? It’s a question that has polarised communities affected by the development of New Zealand wind farms and one that Cantabrians will soon be asked for the first time.
Next month, Meridian Energy is expected to submit consent applications for a 33-turbine wind farm at Centre Hill, between Omihi and Greta Valley, about 66 kilometres from Christchurch.
The company says Project Hurunui would provide the upper South Island with 75.9 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, which would power up to 31,000 households.
That would dwarf the output of turbines at Gebbies Pass and Southbridge, which collectively produce 0.6MW.
Greta Valley businessman John Carr has said the Hurunui project would “set neighbour against neighbour”.
Carr, who bought the historic Tipapa woolshed to develop as a tourist attraction, said his main objections were noise, the effect on the landscape and property values, and the discrepancy in the size of an annual fund to be given to the community compared with payments to those with turbines.
It is believed Meridian would pay landowners $15,000 a year for each turbine on their land.
The model for Project Hurunui is Meridian’s 28-turbine Waikato wind farm at Te Uku, near Raglan, which will be opened by Prime Minister John Key next month after four years development.
Te Uku, which was the subject of a two-year Environment Court battle, still has its detractors. Critics bemoan the loss of aesthetic values.
The 80-metre-tall structures, which can be seen from Hamilton about 48km away, are imposing. Each blade is 49m long and weighs 10.5 tonnes. The turbines weigh 311 tonnes.
Noise concerns appear less of an issue. The whirring of the blades is barely audible from underneath a turbine to within a few hundred metres.
Te Uku project manager Robert Batters said the resource consent process for the wind farm had been more difficult than the construction.
“There’s a whole lot of myths and it’s human nature that there’ll be a fear of the unknown. It’s not until you start building, and get the wind farms up, that people’s fears start to dissipate.”
Basing Meridian’s staff in Raglan had boosted the town’s economy through housing rentals and food and fuel purchases.
About half of the 800 workers were from Waikato.
The development of a gravel quarry and native plant nursery had created ongoing employment opportunities, Batters said.
“We’ve touched a lot of people here, which is why we’ve had such great community support.
“If you don’t create those opportunities, people will go, `That’s bloody Meridian’s wind farm up there’.”
Hurunui project manager Alan McKinney said Canterbury needed to help “shoulder the burden” for new power generation.
Energy demand was growing about 2 per cent a year. There was an urgent need for new sources, he said.
Most of the South Island’s electricity is generated below the Waitaki River. Only 137MW is from north of Christchurch, well short of the 1000MW peak demand.
“Every area needs to shoulder their burden of putting in for generation,” McKinney said.
“You can’t rely on the fact that the Clydes have given a part of their little world for the wider benefit of New Zealand.”
Although the company had developed time-lapse modelling to give a realistic view of the finished product, sudden landscape changes could be a shock.
“The hill may not be particularly outstanding and may not have any trees on it, but, for them, that’s their view. They have an emotional attachment, and we come along and plonk very big structures on it.
“It’s a change and it’s a rapid change. It takes a lot of adjusting to,” McKinney said.
Batters said: “Some people think they look ugly; others think they look great.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get everyone on board.”
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